By Mel Beasley
North Carolina will seek legal action against the federal government if the state does not receive the same exemption from the offshore drilling plan as Florida, which would protect the state’s coastline and tourism economy, Gov. Roy Cooper said at a press conference on Monday, Jan. 22 in Wrightsville Beach.
“This is what Washington needs to know: If North Carolina is not exempt from offshore drilling, we will sue the federal government,” said Cooper, a Democrat, a press conference hosted at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort.
On Jan. 4, President Trump reversed a previous decision by the Obama Administration and opened Atlantic and Pacific waters to offshore drilling. The drilling plan introduced by the U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is one of the largest drilling plans ever proposed, which is expected to expand across approximately 90 percent of the U.S. Coastal waters over the next few years, including North Carolina, according to the department’s website.
The department recently exempted Florida from the drilling plan, citing the state’s tourism economy and its high risk for hurricane activity, according to Zinke. This exemption, however, prompted other coastal states to pursue similar exemptions, as many East Coast states also rely heavily on tourism economy, and nearly all of them have some risk of experiencing hurricane weather.
“By exempting Florida, the Trump administration has admitted that offshore drilling is a threat to coastal economies and tourism,” Cooper said. “Offshore drilling presents an unacceptable risk for North Carolina’s coastal tourism industry and economy – with little potential gain.”
Hurricane Matthew is just one such storm surge which caused catastrophic flooding over the Coastal Plains of eastern North Carolina, and millions of dollars of damage and multiple deaths across the eastern third of the state in 2016, according to the National Weather Service. The state experienced flood levels not seen since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which caused similar damage to the state.
An oil spill would be particularly damaging for North Carolina’s coastal communities, which generate billions of dollars from the tourism and commercial fishing industries, state officials said. Visitor spending accounts for more than $3 billion in North Carolina’s coastal counties, supporting more than 30,000 jobs. Commercial fishing also generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the state’s economy, officials said in a press release.
Sea level fluctuations and intense storms are both challenges to the country’s coastal communities–towns which account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s population and which contribute approximately $6.6 trillion to the U.S. economy, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an American scientific agency of the United States Department of Commerce.
In April 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, operating off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded and sank resulting in the death of 11 workers, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “4 million barrels of oil flowed from the damaged Macondo well over an 87-day period, before it was finally capped on July 15, 2010,” the EPA said. The spill cost the Gulf of Mexico nearly $60 billion in cleanup and economic recovery costs, which is double North Carolina’s annual budget.
Researchers continued to find oil traces and its effects 5 years after the spill occurred, some endangered sea species experienced adverse health conditions such as organ and reproduction failure, according to NOAA. The spill resulted in the contamination of natural sea creature habitats, and killed thousands of sea mammals and sea turtles, scientists concluded.
“North Carolina has made its opposition to offshore drilling clear,” added Cooper, “Following the public comment period, if our state is not granted the same exemption that Florida received, we will take legal action to protect our coastal communities and prevent drilling off the North Carolina coast.”
Cooper said he has not spoken with either of North Carolina’s Republican senators, as both Sen. Thom Tillis and Sen. Richard Burr have expressed support for offshore drilling in the past, but has talked with Zenke.
“He said he understood the needs of North Carolina and agreed to come here to listen to the concerns of businesses, recreational tourism and commercial fishing industries,” Cooper said. “They need to look at the uniqueness of North Carolina.”